All You Need Is Love (at Work)

“All you need is love,” the familiar Beatles chorus goes.

Well, maybe you need more than love to thrive in your work, but love is essential for the new relational economy in the workplace.

“I’m not that intimidating, right?”

Several years ago, a new leader at an organization I had worked with, Anthony, brought me in to consult on a project. When I arrived at their headquarters for our meeting, I met Anthony for the first time, and re-connected with the people I had worked with in the past. We then convened with the executive team.

From that point on, everything went down hill.

As we began to discuss the project I thought we were working on, it became clear to me pretty quickly that Anthony had a completely different agenda. Within fifteen minutes he essentially dismissed the project I thought was the central purpose for our meeting, and completely changed the direction of the discussion.

I was floored but tried to maintain my composure. As the meeting went on, I could tell that the other team members were also surprised and felt a huge disconnect. It also became clear that this moment was symbolic of a much larger problem.

Later that evening, we all went to dinner. As we arrived at the restaurant, Anthony and I were talking about his leadership style. He told me that he was very approachable and then said to several people on his team sitting within ear shot, “I’m not intimidating, right?” They all told him what he wanted to hear, but their non-verbals screamed the exact opposite.

Everyone was aware of the awkwardness in the room, except for Anthony. At that moment, my unsettled feeling about his leadership was confirmed, and I knew the division was headed for trouble. Six months later, Anthony was moved out of the division and demoted. Anthony was smart and very strategic. But he was completely disconnected from himself (and hence the impact he had on his team) and the people on his team. Sadly, Anthony missed a huge opportunity to promote the well-being of his team and customers.

Leading in a disconnected way, as Anthony did, creates distrust and insecurity which causes a cascade of narrowing and dysfunctional processes.

Loving connection is the conduit for employee well-being and sustained high performance.

THE CORE OF Leadership Effectiveness: Relational Virtues

The last half-century of research on human development and leadership makes two things clear: leadership effectiveness is profoundly impacted by:

1) Relational competencies

2) Virtues

Let’s briefly talk about both of these ideas.

Relational Competencies

The capacity to connect in a secure and loving way is a competency. It’s not a traditional “skill” and it’s not analytical intelligence. It’s a separate cluster of abilities that we might call “relational competency” or “relational intelligence.” Relational competency is comprised of a particular form of knowledge called “implicit relational knowledge.”

“Implicit” means it’s a form of knowing that doesn’t exist in words; rather, it’s carried in our emotions and operates in the background.

“Relational” means this subtype of implicit knowledge involves the domain of relationships—it involves knowing how to relate well; knowing how to love others. It’s truly a form of knowledge but it is learned through the medium of relationships rather than through propositions and logic. As the communications scholar Marshall McLuhan taught us, the (relational) medium is indeed the (relational) message.


Virtues are deeply seated dispositions (or habits) and associated capacities within a person that promote what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia—well-being or health of the soul. Within the Christian tradition, the Greek term teleios captured a similar idea—that of being complete in the sense of mature. Just as the body can be in a state of health or illness, so it is with the inner person.

When the inner person is in a state of health, we have a corresponding experience that we might call flourishing. Since well being/flourishing has to do predominantly with healthy, loving relationships, virtues turn out to be fundamentally relational. They all link back in some way to basic relational competencies that stem from secure attachment bonds.

If you put relational competency and virtue together, you get relational virtues. Relational virtues are dispositions that promote others’ well-being (as well as you own) as an end in itself. That’s what Connected Leadership is all about.

How Relational Virtues Impact Leadership Effectiveness

So, how then do relational virtues impact leadership effectiveness?

Connection creates trust and security.

This is foundational for the health of any team and organization. We know from attachment theory that infants need a “secure base” with their caregivers in order to explore the world. Likewise, employees need a secure base to focus on their work, to create, and to innovate. Creating a culture of security is the responsibility of the leader. There is a growing body of research that indicates that our attachment tendencies play out in the work context.  Secure leaders promote secure and loving work cultures that thrive.

Trust and security foster a culture of love. Fostering a culture of love at work

leads to positive organizational outcomes including information sharing, openness to other points of view, innovation, and cooperation to name a few.

Connected Leaders develop thriving employees and teams who experience more meaning in their work, and achieve consistently high performance. So, if you want to develop thriving employees who are free to focus, create, and achieve sustained high performance, then you must connect in a secure and loving way.

You must lead with connection.

So what does it mean to lead with loving connection, and how do you do it? Simply put, you strive to promote the well being of your followers, team, and organization. Leading in this way stems from well-developed character. In order to lead with secure, loving connection, you have to become a virtuous person who has the capacity to lead with loving connection. This doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without intentionality. You have to be intentional about growing and developing relational virtues.

Practical Steps to Grow in Loving Connection

Here are five steps/reflections to help you grow in loving connection:

1. Invite companions on your journey. Find companions on your journey—people you can trust to provide a secure base for you to do the hard work of change and growth. Once you do this you have to be intentional about sharing and being vulnerable.

2. Process your struggles with safe people. Character is most clearly revealed in suffering. And suffering is the crucible for character development. I wrote recently about the types of growth that can come from suffering and how to suffer well. Check these posts out for some insights and action steps on growing through suffering.

3. Reflect on stories of disconnection. Write out one specific story from your life that illustrates ways in which you sometimes feel disconnected from yourself or others. What do you think contributed to these feelings and how do they affect your well-being and your work? How did you cope?

4. Reflect on stories of connection. Write out one story from your life in which you felt heard, understood, and connected. What did the other person/people do that helped you feel connected? What did you do that helped you feel connected? How can you apply that to other relationships?

5. Reflect on what could be. If you felt deeply connected to the people in your life and those you serve most of the time, what could you accomplish? How would your life look different?

I’d love to hear a story of connection and what you learned from it.

If you found this helpful, please share it with your family, friends, and co-workers. Hopefully it will be helpful to them as well..

For more insights on developing meaningful work and relationships, sign up here for my newsletter. As a welcome gift for joining, I invite you to take my free MCORE quiz, discover your #1 motivation, and elevate performance and meaning in your work and relationships.

Photo credit: “Beatles Backstage, Paris 1965” via Flickr.

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